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MLS is Back: Clark finds redemption as Timbers outlasts FC Cincinnati in shootout win

The Portland Timbers nearly committed an act of self-sabotage on Tuesday night by relinquishing a 1-0 lead, but goalkeeper Steve Clark went from goat to hero to help the Timbers avoid a shocking exit from the MLS is Back Tournament.

Clark shook off a terrible late game blunder that threatened to end the Timbers tournament, but the veteran goalkeeper regrouped and made a big penalty shootout save as his teammates converted all four penalties to secure the victory, and a trip to the quarterfinals.

The Timbers looked well on their way to a comfortable lead as they carried a 1-0 lead into the final 10 minutes of Tuesday’s match, but that was before Clark misplayed a seemingly harmless ball in the penalty area, taking a poor touch rather than picking up the ball, and fouling Allen Cruz as he attempted to retrieve the ball.

Juergen Locadia converted the ensuing penalty for FC Cincinnati.

That turn of events appeared as though it would spark a Timbers collapse, and nearly did when a Siem DeJong cross found a wide-open Locadia in front of goal in the 88th minute, but Locadia shanked the chance, giving the Timbers new life as the match went into penalties.

The first four penalty attempts of the shootout were converted before Locadia stepped up to take his kick. Clark, having faced and failed to stop Locadia’s penalty shot in regulation, stopped Locadia’s attempt, which was all the Timbers needed, as Sebastian Blanco and Jaroslaw Niezgoda converted their attempts on either side of Kendall Waston’s failed attempt to secure the victory for the Timbers.

Cincinnati entered the game looking to sit deep and counter, and that strategy worked well for the first 45 minutes. Although the Timbers enjoyed the half’s best chance when Diego Valeri slipped a through ball past the backline into Yimmi Chara, FCC goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton denied the attacking opportunity at point-blank range.

Both sides were content to sit deep and let the other team possess the ball in the first half, as the teams entered halftime with an equal 50% possession split. At times, Cincinnati’s defensive shape resembled a 5-5-0 formation with all men behind the ball.

Shockingly, FC Cincinnati thought it scored first when a simple free kick from Haris Medunjanin found Mathieu Deplagne at the back post, but the French defender was ruled offsides by VAR.

The Timbers finally found a way through the Orange and Blue’s defense when Blanco dribbled into the penalty area and found Jaroslaw Niezgoda between the FCC center backs to slot home an easy finish.

That goal looked like it would be the winner before Clark’s late blunder, and his successful redemption to help the Timbers secure the final spot in the MLS is Back Tournament quarterfinals.

The Timbers will face New York City FC in the quarterfinals on Saturday night.

Man of the Match

Sebastian Blanco:  The winger was a constant threat who caused mayhem whenever he was on the ball. His assist to Niezgoda broke the game open in the second half, and he confidently converted his shootout penalty.

Moment of the Match

Locadia’s miss: Brighton’s former striker was so close to being the hero. His missed opportunity ultimately cost Cincinnati their ticket into the next round.

Match to Forget

Locadia went from not being expected to even play, to coming on as a substitute and converted a crucial penalty, only to then miss a clear chance for a winning goal, and then having a penalty saved.

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